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Top U.S. Churches: Anti-LGBTQ+ and Led by White Men

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An event at Gateway Church's Southlake Campus. Photo credit: Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Out of the 100 largest churches in the United States, zero have LGBTQ+ affirming policies and almost all are led by white men. This is based on research by Church Clarity, a crowd-sourced database that scores churches based on the clarity of their actively enforced LGBTQ+ policies. The organization scored the 100 largest churches as featured in the Christian publication, Outreach Magazine. Church Clarity scored these churches not only on their LGBTQ+ policies, but also on the race and gender of the church’s senior pastors.

Church Clarity defines an “affirming policy” as “much more than ‘welcoming’ LGBTQ+ people, it means that the church will ordain, hire, marry and baptize LGBTQ+ people.” The research found that 54 percent of churches profiled had obscure policy language and did “not clearly and accessibly communicate” their LGBTQ policies and were categorized as “Unclear: Non-Affirming.” Thirty-five percent of churches had “clearly indicate non-affirming policies in a way that can easily be found on their website” and Church Clarity categorized these as “Clear: Non-Affirming.” Eleven percent were categorized as “Undisclosed,” meaning their “policy cannot be found on their website.”

Thirteen of the churches on the list are located in Texas. The largest church in the state on Outreach Magazine’s list is Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, which ranked third on Outreach Magazine’s list, and is categorized as “Clear: Non-Affirming” by Church Clarity. Locally, the Austin Stone Community Church, which ranks at 71 is also categorized as “Clear: Non-Affirming.” The church’s Affirmation of Faith clearly shows anti-LGBTQ+ policies with regards to marriage, gender and sexuality:

The term “marriage” has only one meaning: a covenant between one man and one woman, in a single exclusive union, by which their status changes from two individuals to one flesh as God joins them together. This covenant creates a new family such that their lifelong primary human loyalty is now to one another before anyone else. It is an earthly covenant between one man and one woman that God created and sanctioned to image the unbreakable heavenly covenant between Christ and His Church, therefore intended not to be broken by anything but death. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity [sic] of man and woman. The Lord Jesus Himself said that marriage was created by God from the beginning, so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects.

Regarding gender, God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological gender is a rejection of the image of God within that person.

God created sex as a gift to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage. We believe that God intends sexual expression to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of this marriage covenant. We believe that the exercise of sexual expression outside the biblical definition of marriage in any manner, including but not limited to adultery, homosexuality, premarital sex, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography, is contradictory to God’s design for sexuality and marriage.

While Austin Stone Community Church was the only church in Austin that made the list, San Antonio had three churches on the list, with Houston hosting two churches. The Dallas-Fort Worth area holds the most with seven churches on the list, including the previously mentioned Gateway Church in Southlake.

Leadership at the top churches is markedly white. People of color make up 38 percent of the population in the U.S., but only 7 percent of the churches on the top 100 list are led by a person of color. The study was based on “visual appearance, last names, or any mention that the senior pastor makes online (e.g. blog posts, social media posts) of his/her ethnicity or heritage.”

Out of the top 100 largest U.S. churches, only one had a senior female pastor, who is a co-pastor with her husband. According to Religious News Service, this number will double in October 2018 when Heather Larson will become the lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago bringing the total number of female pastors leading America’s largest churches to two.

According to a survey by the Barna Group, 79 percent of Americans are comfortable with a female priest or pastor. While only 39 percent of evangelicals said they’re comfortable with a female pastor. “Evangelicals aside, most other practicing Christians would be comfortable with a woman in the pulpit,” Barna Editor-in-Chief Roxanne Stone said. “[T]his is likely to become more of an issue for churches as women continue to gain equality in other spheres.”

“Part of the reason we chose to release this now is because the New Year is a time when people decide to reengage with religion by attending church,” Church Clarity’s co-founder Tim Schraeder told Religion News Service. “As people of faith commit to new resolutions, we wanted to set them up for success by helping them make the most informed decision.”

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: An event at Gateway Church’s Southlake Campus. / photo credit: Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0[/gdlr_notification]

Chase is the Founder and Creative Director of therepubliq.com, Host and Executive Producer of OutCast Austin, an award-winning LGBT weekly radio program on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. In 2011, he was named the Critics Pick for 'Most Gaybiquitous' in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin. In 2012, CultureMap Austin named him one of Austin's Top LGBT bloggers and he received the AGLCC's Chamber Award for Social Media Diva.

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85th TX Lege

Texas Faith Leaders Come Out Against Bills Targeted at LGBT Texans

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Prayer is a staple of the Texas Capitol, where lawmakers begin each legislative day with an invocation and bowed heads. 

But on Wednesday, about 50 faith leaders of various denominations lined the stairs outside the Texas House in protest. Their prayer was silent, but their message was clear: Don’t legislate against LGBT Texans in our name. 

Singing hymns and holding placards that read “My faith does not discriminate,” the group planned to deliver to lawmakers’ offices a letter signed by more than 200 faith leaders in Texas who oppose various proposals they see as discriminatory against LGBT people. Among those measures are two proposals that would regulate bathroom access for transgender Texans — Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2899 — that are priority for some Republicans but haven’t progressed in the waning weeks of the legislative session. 

“Often the voices of people from faith communities that are heard are voices of judgment and condemnation,”said Rev. Karen Thompson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, whose congregation is mostly made up of LGBT members. “We’re here to say that there is another voice of the faith community that is welcome and encouraged.” 

Wednesday’s protest further marked the divide among the faith community when it comes to the bathroom legislation. The message brought by those who congregated outside the House chamber strayed from that of pastors and other church leaders who for months have advocated for legislation to regulate bathrooms, citing concerns for the privacy and safety of women.   

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who has championed the Senate’s proposal — had also said he would galvanize 1 million Texas Christians in support of the bill. 

Senate Bill 6 would regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex,” keeping transgender Texans from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. It would also prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations. 

House Bill 2899 would ban political subdivisions, including school districts, from enacting or enforcing policies to protect a class of persons if they aren’t already protected by federal or state law as applied to bathrooms, showers or changing facilities. 

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people, including transgender residents, from discrimination in public accommodations, like the public bathrooms that match their gender identity. 

The Senate bill was passed by the upper chamber in March but has languished in the House, where Speaker Joe Straus — who opposes the legislation — did not refer it to committee for consideration. Instead, a panel of House lawmakers considered HB 2899, but they have yet to vote on the measure since an April 20 hearing. 

Since then, half of the Republicans in the House have signed on as co-authors. But it’s unclear whether the proposal will make it out of committee. 

The faith leaders’ protest came on the same day a House committee is set to consider legislation that would allow county clerks to recuse themselves from signing marriage licenses for same-sex couples because of religious objections. The Senate signed off on a similar proposal last month. 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Members of the clergy and others supporting LGBT rights gather outside the Texas House chamber May 3, 2017 to show support for the community affected by “bathroom bill” legislation pending at the 85th Legislature. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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People of Faith Are Increasingly Vocal Supporters of Transgender Justice

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#6f95bd” color=”#000000″]This material was published by the Center for American Progress.
Claire Markham and Tracy Wolf contributed to this report.[/gdlr_notification]

Friday, March 31, marks the Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual celebration of the accomplishments and victories of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Despite incremental progress for transgender people over the past few years—for example, some states and localities have passed trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections and issued bulletins ensuring access to health insurance coverage—it is critical to recognize the work that remains to ensure transgender people’s rights and inclusion in the United States. The Transgender Day of Visibility provides an opportune moment for communities of faith to contemplate how they are called to contribute to transgender justice.

Meanwhile, the path to rights, inclusion, and legal protections for the transgender community has been made more difficult because of the Trump administration and other opponents at all levels of government. Over the past year, an onslaught of anti-LGBT legislation has been introduced—and, in some cases, passed—in state legislatures. Many of these bills specifically target transgender and gender-nonconforming people, such as North Carolina’s H.B. 2, a law that rescinded Charlotte and other cities’ LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances; banned future protections; and barred transgender people from using restrooms in accordance with their gender identity. Similar legislation is being debated in Texas and several other states. These actions, along with the anti-LGBT rhetoric of some of President Donald Trump’s cabinet members, signal that the transgender community will continue to experience unnecessary hardship and obstacles to equality from policymakers across the country.

Anti-transgender legislation, its conservative supporters, and the religious lens from which they sometimes draw justification make it tempting to make a strong connection between being a person of faith and being anti-transgender. However, religious values compel people of faith to stand for transgender justice, and they are increasingly doing so.

The moral imperative for transgender justice is undeniable

Transgender people in the United States face many barriers to health, safety, and inclusion in public life. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s “2015 U.S. Transgender Survey,” the largest survey of its kind exploring the experiences of transgender people in the United States, paints a comprehensive picture of the challenges facing transgender people, including economic hardship; discrimination, violence, and mistreatment; and negative physical and mental health effects. For example, 54 percent of transgender students reported being verbally harassed because people thought they were transgender, and 24 percent of students reported being physically attacked for the same reason.

Furthermore, transgender people and their rights have been increasingly at the fore of news stories in 2017, including ongoing efforts in states to restrict access to the appropriate bathrooms, the NCAA promising to relocate all events through 2022 if North Carolina does not repeal H.B. 2, an alarming number of trans women of color murdered, and Gavin Grimm’s lawsuit being taken up by the Supreme Court and then taken off its calendar after the Trump administration rescinded guidance that affected the case. These statistics and the regular marginalization of transgender individuals make it clear that they are among the most vulnerable in American society, making protecting and supporting transgender people both within and outside houses of worship that much more important to people of faith.

Many faith traditions’ guiding principles include a shared commitment to those who are vulnerable. For example, scriptures call upon people of faith to welcome the stranger or marginalized within society and care for those who are poor or otherwise in need. This commitment to help marginalized individuals extends to the transgender community, especially as their rights are often connected to the rights of low-income individuals, a group for which people of faith consistently advocate. Values of treating all humans with compassion, dignity, and respect further compel people of faith to stand up for the rights of transgender individuals. A culture trending toward inclusion is also put forth in sacred texts: The scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments point toward movement from rigid exclusion to greater inclusion of those living outside the margins of society. With these religious underpinnings, the moral imperative to stand for transgender justice is undeniable.

Anti-LGBT people of faith are only a vocal minority

People of faith who do not support transgender rights and inclusion are a vocal minority. Trends indicate that, though they may get headlines and make speeches in support of discriminatory legislation, their numbers are shrinking. In fact, only white evangelical Protestants have majority support for anti-transgender bathroom bills—every other major faith tradition in the United States shows majority support for transgender people using the bathroom appropriate for them. While certain segments of the white evangelical Protestant community are doubling down on excluding transgender people from their faith communities, even they show concern for the bullying and harassment that transgender people face.

Faith communities are trending toward inclusion and justice

When thinking about religion and attitudes toward transgender people, it would be a mistake to ascribe discriminatory opinions to all people of faith. Polling shows that majorities of all major religious groups in the United States, including white evangelical Protestants, are in favor of nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. This support reaches almost three-quarters of the white mainline Protestant population and more than 80 percent of the Jewish population, and support is high even among Catholics, despite hostile views from the Catholic Church hierarchy. Even when it comes to access to public restrooms, majorities of many faith groups believe that transgender people should be allowed to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

People of Faith Support Transgender Rights

These views have translated into the creation of inclusive policies within denominations and congregations, as well as advocacy for public policies that treat transgender people with equality, respect, and dignity. Several denominations have taken official stances to address the inclusion of transgender people in their congregations and the transgender community’s rights in public spaces, including the Episcopal Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Rabbinical Assembly—an association of conservative rabbis. Even more faith communities are supportive of transgender rights and inclusion in more informal ways or, at a minimum, do not have barriers to inclusion within their congregations. There are also numerous faith-based organizations dedicated to including LGBT people in in religious spaces, such as Many Voices: A Black Church Movement for Gay & Transgender Justice, Believe Out Loud, and Keshet. Similarly, events such as the National Weekend of Prayer for Transgender Justice are designed to engage in education, prayer, and action for transgender justice. Houses of worship have ordained transgender clergy, created gender-neutral restrooms, and put in place other systems to strive for spaces where everyone feels welcome.

Beyond the walls of houses of worship, people of faith have demonstrated their support for the transgender community through advocacy and direct action. For example, after the passage of H.B. 2 in North Carolina, hundreds of the state’s clergy members joined the progressive community in opposing the law through organizing and participating in rallies, writing letters to state lawmakers, and even financially supporting a lawsuit challenging the legislation. Similarly, when the Supreme Court was set to hold hearings for a case on transgender student Gavin Grimm’s rights in public schools, almost 2,000 clergy joined an amicus brief in support of protections, acknowledging the diversity of religious traditions that embrace the transgender community. The brief states:

Permitting religiously based “anti-‘transgenderism’” to shape civil rights enforcement would both enshrine religious beliefs in the law and implicitly privilege some religious viewpoints … over others. …The First Amendment forbids both forms of religious favoritism.

For these people of faith, the motivation to fight against transgender discrimination in public policy comes from their religious identities, not despite them.

Conclusion

Communities of faith are not yet as universally inclusive as they should be pursuant to their own teachings about human dignity, love, and protection for the vulnerable. But there is hope in increasingly affirming denominations, and people of faith are becoming more and more vocal in support of transgender justice.

Claire Markham is the Associate Director for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Tracy Wolf is the Research Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center.

The Center for American Progress is a progressive think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Harry Clarke, stained glass windows in Díseart, An Daingean, Co Kerry, Ireland. / photo credit: Wikipedia[/gdlr_notification]

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85th TX Lege

Religious Leaders Turn to Debate Over Texas “Bathroom Bill”

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Religious leaders are stepping into the contentious debate in Texas over the proposed “bathroom bill,” looking to assert their influence in a discussion that until now has been largely shaped by the business lobby and LGBT advocates. 

It was evident Thursday at meetings at two churches in Austin. In one, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill’s biggest champion, privately huddled with a group of pastors about supporting Senate Bill 6. At another, various faith leaders gathered before reporters to express opposition to it. 

The bill would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The bill has drawn national attention following the fallout in North Carolina, which last year passed a similar measure, prompting charges of discrimination and some economic consequences including the NBA pulling an All-Star Game from the state, the NCAA moving some championship games and some performers canceling concerts. 

Patrick frequently compares the battle over Senate Bill 6 to the fight surrounding Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which voters defeated in 2015 amid similar claims about men entering women’s bathrooms. The religious community was most prominently drawn into the HERO debate when then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who opposed the ordinance. 

A number of people involved in that fight made the trip to Hyde Park Baptist Church Thursday to hear about Senate Bill 6 at an event organized by the conservative Texas Pastor Council. The turnout for the closed-press briefing included Patrick; Attorney General Ken Paxton; state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who authored the bill; state Sen. Bob Hall, an Edgewood Republican who coauthored the legislation; and Rafael Cruz, the preacher father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.  

“Fundamentally, first and foremost, this is a moral question,” said Rev. Dave Welch, a spokesman for the Texas Pastor Council. “Should we protect the privacy and safety of our women and children? It’s profound that we’re even asking the question.”  

As the briefing got underway, about 50 protesters were gathered near the entrance, greeting pastors as they trickled in. One person, dressed up as the prophet Moses, held two signs surrounding his gray-bearded face that together read, “LET MY PEOPLE GO TO THE BATHROOM.”  

Another place of worship across the street, Trinity United Methodist Church, seemed to be aware of the event. “RELIGION IS NO REASON TO DISCRIMINATE,” read a sign out front. Below the sign was a table with coffee, apparently for the protesters.  

A coalition of faith leaders, including several reverends and a rabbi, offered a similar message Thursday at a press conference at First United Methodist Church near the Capitol, aiming to equate the “bathroom bill” and additional anti-LGBT measures filed this session to discriminatory acts that run contrary to their religions’ values. 

“Today, there is a systematic effort underway to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens in this state,” said Taylor Fuerst, a pastor at First United Methodist Church. “When such an injustice is done in the name of religion … faith leaders and people of faith cannot be silent. Our faith, our god calls us to stand up and speak out, and that’s why we’re here today.”  

Fuerst also drew a parallel to the HERO debate and the current one over SB 6. 

“They found what worked in Houston was to galvanize a certain branch of the faith community behind defeating [HERO] by using fear,” Fuerst said. “Those who are working for the passage of SB 6 and similar legislation found that approach worked and said, ‘Hey, we can use that.'” 

The religious community had already entered the picture earlier this week, when Episcopal Church leaders suggested they could pull their triennial General Convention from Austin next year. In a letter Monday to House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who has expressed deep reservations about SB 6, the leaders wrote they are “firmly opposed to this legislation and condemn its discriminatory intent.”  

After his closed-door briefing with pastors early Thursday, Patrick addressed the Texas Business Leadership Council‘s policy summit in downtown Austin. He did not respond to a reporter when asked what he had discussed with the pastors hours earlier. But in his remarks to the business group, Patrick continued to push SB 6, predicting there would be an “exodus from our public schools” if it doesn’t become law. 

“We’re telling businesses do what you want — do what you want to do,” Patrick said, apparently referring to a bill provision that backers say would allow private businesses to set their own bathroom policy. “I’ve seen a long list of businesses opposing this bill, but I haven’t seen a long list of businesses saying, ‘Next week we’re going to start allowing men into the ladies bathroom in our restaurant, in our school.'”  

“Let’s see them stand up and say, ‘We actually support boys and girls using the shower in the 10th grade,'” Patrick added.   

Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The Texas Business Leadership Council has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Rev. S. David Wynn of Fort Worth, who identifies as a transgender male, speaks at a press conference of the Texas Believes coalition on Feb. 9, 2017. Wynn and other faith leaders from around the state gathered in Austin to help combat anti-LGBT discrimination bills proposed in the 85th Legislature. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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